248. DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) (1967)

Se sei Vivo Spara; AKA Oro Hondo

“That [If You Live, Shoot!] should be part of the small group of films that become a part of film history, embedded in the viewer’s imagination, obviously pleases me greatly… But I have to quickly add that it is a cult phenomenon for a few young likable nutcases. Every generation has a few of those.”–Giulio Questi

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tomas Milian, Roberto Camardiel, Francisco Sanz, Piero Lulli, Ray Lovelock

PLOT: Two wandering Indians find a half-dead Stranger climbing out of a makeshift desert grave. They also find a bag of gold on his body, which they melt down and fashion into bullets for him. They then take him to the nearest town, which the Indians call “the Unhappy Place,” where the Stranger goes after the man who betrayed him, stole his share of the gold, and left him for dead.

Django Kill (If You Live, Shoot!) (1967) still

BACKGROUND:

  • Franco Arcalli served as editor and collaborated on the screenplay. Arcalli later became a big name in the Italian film industry, going on to collaborate with (on Zabriske Point), Bernardo Bertolucci (on The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris) while also collaborating on screenplays for Last Tango and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, among others. As his fame grew, he continued to work on Questi’s movies, as well.
  • Questi drew on his experiences as a paramilitary resistance fighter during WWII for the action sequences.
  • Italian audiences complained to censors about gruesome scenes where a man’s torso is torn apart to get at the golden bullets inside and another where a man is scalped. These scenes were immediately re-edited—in different countries, between twenty and thirty minutes of violence were cut out. Since they weren’t included in prints sent to the U.S., these scenes were never dubbed into English; therefore, when watching the restored version on Blu-ray, these scenes suddenly appear subtitled when the rest of movie is dubbed.
  • Originally titled If You Live, Shoot!, distributors later added Django Kill to the title (against Questi’s wishes) in a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of Franco Nero’s Django series. Thomas Millian does not play Django, and If You Live, Shoot! has nothing to do with the series.
  • Repo Man director is one of this film’s champions; he provided a 1997 introduction for a BBC series called “Forbidden Films,” where he he called it “the creepiest film I’d ever seen.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Based on sheer grisly shock value, it’s the scene where the villagers rip into Oaks’s still-breathing body trying to dig out the golden bullets inside it. Due to skillful editing, you don’t actually see as much blood and torn flesh as you imagine you do, but that’s part of what makes the scene so masterful—you and the filmmakers collaborate on building it in your mind’s eye.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Golden bullets; gay cowpokes of the Old West; alcoholic oracle parrot

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its ambiguously dead antihero who shoots golden bullets fights Mr. Sorrow and his gang of gay fascist cowboys, Django Kill‘s subversive, surreal subtext befuddled 1967 viewers expecting warmed-up Spaghetti Western leftovers. It still has the power to perturb the unsuspecting today. Go into it looking for weirdness, and you’ll be amply rewarded.


British DVD release trailer for Django Kill

COMMENTS: Halfway down the dusty road that leads from A Fistful of Dollars to El Topo lies Django Kill. Although ‘s 1965-1966 duology The Shooting and Ride the Whirlwind are sometimes described as the first “acid Westerns,” Django Kill may have an even better claim to that title. Gilulio Quetsi’s feature debut is one of the first movies to recognize the hallucinogenic properties of the overripe oater. Flirting with surrealism while laying on the stage blood in ludicrous quantities, Django Kill must have set off light bulbs inside Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s skull. The plot, involving a revenant protagonist of ambiguous life status who is led by Indian spirit guides, also appears to have at least subliminally inspired Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 masterpiece Dead Man. To modern eyes Django Kill isn’t the weirdest of the acid Westerns, and the violence which sickened Sixties audiences looks tame and stagey today; but it was a pioneer among crazed cowboy pics, and its mixture of unabashed exploitation, arty surrealism and psychedelic editing makes it a cult item par excellence.

Even though Kill’s violence no longer carries the same visceral impact it did in the late 60s, it’s still a lot of bloody fun; at times, it’s like watching running loose on a Sergio Leone set. One of the surprising things about Django Kill is that, despite all of the bizarre touches Questi adds, it’s accessible enough to work as a satisfying Western, albeit with a supernatural tinge. With his hazel eyes gleaming above his scrub-brush cheeks, Cuban-born Thomas Milian makes for an attractive, ethnically ambiguous antihero (he’s supposed to be a half-breed) who needs to do little more than act cool and aloof to make his presence felt. The admittedly meandering plot hits all the genre highlights: shootouts, stolen gold, cruel villains, lynchings, saloon fistfights, God-forsaken desert landscapes, betrayal, revenge, and closeups of grizzled macho faces a la Leone aplenty. The strangeness comes in small doses, giving the weirdophiles in the audience secret thrills while incrementally alienating the grindhouse patrons. Other than the golden bullets, and the psychedelic editing of the flashbacks, the first fifteen minutes are played almost totally straight. When a gang of desperadoes roll into a nameless town, things start to take on a strange tinge: naked children stand calmly watching their progress through the dusty main street, while other kids are being used as footstools. Figures are briefly glimpsed in windows, and there seems to be something unspeakably depraved happening behind every door. There’s even what appears to be a three-legged hedgehog crawling in the street. As we progress through the movie these quirks multiply, from the villain improbably named “Mr. Sorrow” and his gang of black-clad “muchachos” to a mock-crucifixion scene featuring vampire bats to an alcoholic parrot.

The subtext appears to be that Milian, known only as the Stranger, is dead and is wandering through a bandito’s vision of Hell; or, perhaps the Stranger is a Christ figure, returned from the dead and redeeming the debauched town through his suffering. The answer is probably both, and neither, of the above. Still, it’s hard to escape the Stranger’s messianic imagery in the scene where he is stretched out in a loincloth over a cross-like rack; his omnipresent headband even evokes a crown of thorns. In his interview for the Blue Underground DVD, Questi acknowledges the existence of the Christ imagery noncommittally, as if it is as mysterious to him as it is to the viewer. I think the simple reason for the Jesus imagery is that it’s an inherent element of the Western cowboy myth. A Stranger with preternatural powers who wanders in from the vast outside to suffer and clean up a corrupt town before disappearing into the wilderness from whence he came will inevitably get compared to Jesus; even the communist Czechs got caught up in this game in Lemonade Joe. It helps when you’re doing a Spaghetti version of the old story and your hero has a beard and shaggy hair. The Stranger’s essential amorality is actually more subversive of the cowboy myth than are his implicit sanctified qualities—although perhaps the mixture of the two is more subversive than either would be alone. Questi keeps the existential implications of the tale as wide open as the dome over a Montana prairie.

If you are looking for a thematic hook and purpose for the often puzzling Django Kill, look to the role the gold standard plays in destabilizing the world’s moral economy. Here, the stolen gold is more than a MacGuffin: it’s the main villain, the source of all evil and the temptation which destroys those who traffic in it. Notice the extremely odd scene where the tavern-keeper’s wife peeps through a keyhole at her husband and the Alderman as they argue over the gold. We see their hands darting over the treasure, intertwining, as the voyeur’s breath grows heavy and the camera focuses on her open mouth, her fingers stroking her lips… she’s getting turned on, not by sex, but by the thought of money. Although the Stranger shoots Sorrow outright (with golden bullets), two out of three of the main villains’s deaths result, not from the direct actions of the Stranger, but from greed—the villagers’s desire for the gold stowed in Oaks’s body, and the Alderman’s refusal to flee his burning home without securing his share of the loot first. The Indians’s ritual melting of the Stranger’s remaining gold to make bullets is an alchemical transmutation: they transform the metal from usable currency into an instrument of ironic vengeance, something with true practical value. It is no accident that Questi was a Communist, although his ideology lies lightly on the film—as an anti-greed fable, the message here fits as well with Christianity as it does Marxism.

Django Kill is constantly off-kilter, original and unsettling in ways that are often hard to define. It follows the conventions of the Western, but also has a gruesome fairy tale quality, and touches of surrealism. Director Giulio Questi had a short, but fascinating, career between 1967 and 1972, where he made three feature films, each in a different genre: a Spaghetti Western here, a giallo in 1968’s brilliantly bizarre Death Laid an Egg, and a supernatural horror film with Arcana. Note that each of these is a “disreputable” genre. Questi was ahead of his time in transporting arthouse surrealist sensibilities into film genres that generally relied on shock value. His innovation came at a time when loosening bonds of censorship allowed filmmakers to incorporate elements—blood and sex—that had until recently been the exclusive tools of industry outsiders working in exploitation movies. His career prefigured , who would soon take that ball and run with it, to some  financial and even critical success. Italy in the 1960s wasn’t yet ready for Questi’s vision, however, and his films failed to find an appreciative audience. Intellectuals of the day weren’t going to see Westerns or giallos, while his films proved too arty and weird for exploitation film fans. He was largely forgotten and moved into TV movies in order to make a living. But, to the few who’ve seen them, his Sixties trilogy bears the unmistakable brand of the auteur. Django Kill remains the only one of his features that’s relatively widely distributed, relegated to minor cult status though it may be; but Questi is a talent who deserves rediscovery in an age were his genre miscegenation will no longer seem so unapproachable. Perhaps in the future “Questian” will be the adjective we’ll reach for when a surreal scene pops up in an exploitation film like a three-legged hedgehog in a Western town.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the strangest and most violent Westerns ever made…”–Michael J. Weldon, Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

“…an essential weird and wild genre mash up… if you’re looking for a zonked-out cult item with unpredictable twists and turns around every corner, you’ve come to the right place.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

“…determinedly weird… [a] savage and surreal smorgasbord for cult-film aficionados.”–Bud Wilkins, Slant Magazine (Blu-ray)

IMDB LINK: Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (Blu-ray) – Info on Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release of the film, with the original U.S. release trailer

LIST CANDIDATE: DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967) – This site’s original list candidate review of the film (including an essay-length comment from The Awful Dr. Orloff)

DVD INFO: Blue Underground released Django Kill on DVD in 2004 (buy) and upgraded the presentation to Blu-ray in 2012 (buy). Both editions give the viewer the option to watch the film subtitled or dubbed into English (dubbed is the default). Extras on both include the stylized pop-art original U.S. trailer (which incorporated zero scenes from the film), a poster and stills gallery, and “Django Tells,” a mini-doc with interviews with director Questi and stars Milian and Lovelock. The DVD actually has a couple of features the Blu-ray lacks, coming with a set of liner notes from William Connoly and (according to this Amazon reviewer) extra interviews hidden as Easter Eggs.

The DVD is also available in Blue Underground’s out-of-print 2003 “The Spaghetti Western Collection” (buy), where it plays alongside the original Django, 1968’s Run, Man, Run! (also starring Milian), and late-cycle entry Mannaja: A Man Called Blade (1977).

Django Kill! can also be rented or downloaded digitally in HD (rent or buy) or, if you want to save a buck or two, in standard definition (rent or buy).

(This movie was nominated for review by The Awful Dr. Orloff, who called it “the most insanely violent spaghetti western of them all.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “248. DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) (1967)”

  1. Here are “The Awful Dr. Orloff’s” extensive comments on the original List Candidate review:

    How nice that you’re considering my suggestion! Though this piece barely scratches the surface of how weird this film is. Incidentally, it had the same screenwriter as “Once Upon a Time in America” and “Last Tango in Paris”, neither of which is altogether normal.

    For me, the signature moment is a scene in which the nameless “hero” (as you’ve already pointed out, this film, like many spaghetti westerns, was re-titled to make it seem like part of a successful but unrelated franchise – it was originally called “If You Live, Shoot!”) is seen lying on his bed staring intently at the ceiling while intense mood-setting music plays on the soundtrack. He suddenly gets up and walks out of the inn with grim determination – clearly a showdown is about to take place. But when he walks out into the street, there’s absolutely nobody else there, and nothing for him to usefully do. So he picks up a dirty old rag that’s blowing down the street and examines it intently as if that’s what he meant to do all along. And then he just goes back inside again.

    The whole film’s a bit like that – “Django” doesn’t really accomplish very much, and mainly just wanders around while the obviously psychotic population of the nameless town self-destruct around him. Absolutely nobody in the film is even remotely sane, and almost all the male characters appear to be closet homosexuals who aren’t terribly comfortable with it (though at least Questi was talked out of going through with his initial idea of having the character who commits suicide as the result of an offscreen rape by numerous men not only get raped onscreen, but die as a direct result of the brutal sodomy!). And what’s with the hedgehogs?

    Perhaps the weirdest thing about this movie is that 30 or 40 years ago it was so hard to see in any print, let alone a complete one, that professional movie critics used to routinely make up reviews including mentions of scenes the reader couldn’t have seen because they weren’t actually in any version of the film, safe in the knowledge that you couldn’t prove them wrong unless you were Giulio Questi. The Aurum Film Encyclopedia, for example, claimed that there was a battle involving elaborate steampunk machine-guns, and somebody was roasted alive on a spit.

    The odd thing is that what’s genuinely in the movie goes way beyond anything they could have made up. A greed-crazed mob very explicitly digging gold bullets out of a living man’s flesh with penknives (this scene was excised for so many years that the DVD I saw briefly switched from English to Italian during this bit). A blatant parody of the crucifixion with added fruit-bats. And of course death by having your head engulfed in molten gold. Absolutely nothing in the whole film is altogether normal – even a game of darts somehow comes across as a bit disturbing.

    Also, there are absolutely no truly sympathetic characters. “Django”, in addition to being strangely passive, is apparently motivated mainly by his doomed love for a teenage boy, if he has any rational motive at all. But mostly he just scowls a lot while the entire cast kill each other. The two characters he cares for, both of whom die, are, respectively, a boy who explicitly desires to kill his mother for being sexually attracted to a man who isn’t him, but contents himself with shredding her dress with a switchblade, and a woman who we are led to believe has been locked up by her pathologically jealous husband on the pretext that she’s mad, but then does in fact turn out to be dangerously insane.

    And your guess is as good as mine as to what’s going on with the two elderly Indians who worship our hero as a god who rose from the dead! Their instant reaction upon finding a small quantity of the stolen gold that’s been overlooked is to make it into golden bullets and give then to the hero. Why? Because if they don’t, that notorious scene with the penknives can’t occur. Indeed, throughout the film, the main villain is the gold itself, which, despite being an inanimate object, succeeds in directly killing several of the people who want it most. If you discount the very hasty and almost entirely offscreen climax in which our hero defeats the baddies by attaching dynamite to horses, the gold itself is a more effective avenger than he is – is this a rare example of a proactive McGuffin?

    It’s no masterpiece – I can see why Questi’s directorial career wasn’t very prolific – but it’s undoubtedly very weird indeed. In the hands of a better director, it could have been a cross between “A Fistful of Dollars” and “Eraserhead” (now that would be a sight to behold!). It isn’t that, but it’s still weird. And it has to be the only western ever made to feature a shot of a hedgehog.

  2. “Se sei vivo spara” is an amazing spaghetti western, probably my favourite after the Sergio Leones’s masterpieces and the incredible Keoma, which was also known in the U.S. as Django Rides Again or Django Great Return. Obviously there’s no one called Django in Keoma, but at least the main character is Franco Nero! Thank you from Italy!

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